At the Table with Gail Simmons

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As the Toronto FOOD & WINE Festival is just around the corner (September 18-20), we caught up with Gail Simmons, Special Projects Director, FOOD & WINE,who's from Toronto, about her favourite topic – food!

What’s the last thing you ate? A spinach and cheese omelette and an iced latte for breakfast.

When staying at a hotel, what are you raiding from the mini fridge? Chocolate covered almonds, salt & vinegar chips, and occasionally tequila. 
 
Guilty food pleasure: Spicy saucy chicken wings, usually late at night! Although I try not to feel guilty about it as I don’t indulge in them that often.

Drink of choice: An Old Fashioned with rye, or tequila on the rocks with a squeeze of lime.

Favourite cookbook: This changes weekly but at the moment its Hugh Acheson’s The Broad Fork. His vegetable-focused recipes are creative, inspired but accessible and somehow exactly how I always want to eat.
 
Three items that are always in your fridge: Champagne, eggs, Parmesan, and lemons (I know that’s four items but all are vital, I could not narrow down!).
 
Top three Toronto restaurants: This also changes every time I visit but right now they are Rose & SonsByblosBuca and Café Boulud (Again, too hard to narrow down to just three!).
 
Favourite places to shop for ingredients in Toronto: Kensington Market and Chinatown, Evergreen Brick Works and St. Lawrence Farmers’ Markets, and I am still very partial to Loblaws from my childhood. I adore all President’s Choice products!
 
Go-to dish ordered at a restaurant: I never have a go-to dish! I want to try whatever is the specialty of the restaurant where I am, and what the chef does best.
 
Would you rather – Go to farmer’s market/nearest pub/food truck? I could spend my whole life exploring farmers’ markets! They are where I gather the most inspiration for my cooking.
 
Describe your kitchen: 
I just moved to Brooklyn after 15 years in Manhattan. Not only did I gain much needed space in our kitchen but, we did a big renovation and I was able to design it myself.

It is modern and open to the whole floor so I can cook while still being part of the living or dining room conversation, or watch my daughter play in the den. It is very efficient with lots of storage space - all the way up to the ceiling - a glass wine fridge, and sleek extra-wide counters in Cesarstone, so I do not have to worry about them staining or needing to be sealed. The custom cabinets are a smoky grey with all brass handles, which really pop against the background.

My favourite features are the oversized kitchen sink and the little secret drawer under it in the baseboard that, when you tap on it lightly with your foot, opens to reveal a step-ladder use to reach the higher cupboards.
 
Describe your cooking style: I find that when I cook at home for friends and family I cook mostly vegetables and grains with simple roast or grilled fish and meat. In the summer I love to serve fresh produce raw or barely cooked like tomatoes, zucchini and corn with lots of herbs. In the winter I love cooking soups and stews or braises that are comforting and layers with flavour.

In general, my cooking style is influenced by the seasons, as well as my travels. I have been lucky enough to spend a lot of time in South East Asia and the Middle East, and I am so inspired by the flavours of both places. I love incorporating subtle hints from ingredients like harissa, tahini, fish sauce or sumac into my food for an unexpected twist.